Yara Zakharia, Esq.
Owing to the mass media's omnipresence, glorification of youth and growing influence, an increasing number of Americans are coveting the picture-perfect, feel-good Hollywood smile, making teeth whitening one of the leading cosmetic dentistry procedures in the U.S. today.
Studies have shown that this cosmetic procedure yields favorable results in the vast majority of cases. Through teeth bleaching, dull enamel is transformed into a brighter and whiter coating that sparkles. Consequently, an improved appearance, in turn, delivers a major boost to men and women's confidence and self-esteem and awakens a sense of aliveness in them. Teeth whitening is usually sought for lightening up a patient's teeth or diminishing yellow and brown stains and discoloration on the same.
Discoloration of teeth is often caused by genetics or triggered by such factors as aging, tobacco, coffee, tea, colas, cigarettes, red wine, medications, highly-acidic foods and beverages, chemical damage, and/or disease. Even changing the color of one's enamel by two or three shades can considerably improve one's smile. What is more, quality teeth whitening products enable individuals to achieve a natural, white look.
Teeth Whitening Procedures
Most patients are highly-pleased with the results and find the procedure to be considerably efficacious. Consumers may avail themselves from an array of teeth whitening products and services in the market. Teeth whitening, however, is usually not covered by dental insurance programs.
A wide variety of teeth whitening products are available over-the-counter in drug stores and grocery stores. Many of these contain the same ingredients found in teeth whitening products utilized at dental offices. Some of the best teeth whitening approaches include the following:
Professional Teeth Whitening
In-office treatment may take place either entirely or partially at the dental clinic; in the latter case, the patient is provided materials by the dentist and performs part of the teeth whitening procedure at home. Some of the benefits associated with dental office treatment are a pain-free procedure, precision, speed, and professional results.
The dentist first evaluates whether the prospective client is eligible for teeth whitening and determines the technique that is most appropriate and most likely to generate optimal results for him or her. The dentist then informs the patient of what he or she can reasonably expect as an outcome in light of his or her individual situation. Prior to initiating the bleaching, the patient's teeth are cleaned and his or her cavities filled. Additionally, the dentist verifies that the client's gums are in a healthy condition.
One popular whitening system involves the use of a light in conjunction with a bleaching gel to effectuate a rapid and noticeable alteration in tooth color. The dentist begins by separating the gums and lips and applying the gel to the teeth. He or she then directs the special light unto the teeth enamel until lightening is achieved. In general, one session is all that is needed. Teeth whitening via Britesmile or a special light source usually costs around $600.
An alternative approach consists of applying hydrogen peroxide to the teeth and using a laser to intensify and accelerate the tooth bleaching process. Laser teeth whitening is particularly effective on patients with substantial staining of their internal teeth or discoloration. While this approach is more costly than others, it is the fastest. The procedure, which usually takes anywhere from two to three hours and costs $1,000 on average, presents only minor discomfort. The effects last from 1 to 2 years, and patients experience 7-8 variations in shade.
Customized Fit-Tray Teeth Whitening
In this bleaching technique, which costs $500 on average and is simple to use, patients undergo an initial whitening at the dentist's office. The dentist then creates impressions of the client's mouth and a customized mouth tray for him or her. The patient is offered a home kit with a bleaching gel that is tailored to his or her needs. The tray and solution are usually worn for 1-2 hours daily and for a period of two to three weeks. Full results of the whitening procedure are usually manifested in one to two weeks and last anywhere from 4 to 12 months. The technique generally produces a minimum of four changes in shade and patients may experience sensitivity in their teeth and gums.
Dental Bleaching Pens
These are convenient, affordable, and easy to use. Consumers simply apply the whitening solution to their teeth with the whitening solution, a process that takes no more than 30 seconds. Dental whitening pens cost less than tray bleaching.
The most common ingredient in the majority of bleaching kits is carbamide peroxide. The concentration of this chemical and its PH balance vary from one kit to the next. To avoid discomfort, solutions containing approximately 15% peroxide are usually recommended. Tray whitening kits typically range between $50 and $100.
Teeth Whitening Strips
Dental strips, which can be purchased at local pharmacies and drugstores for as little as $25, are coated with bleaching gel. They are affixed to the user's lower and upper teeth and worn for 30 minutes to an hour each day. Full bleaching results are usually visible in a period of three weeks. Dental strips are also ideal for occasional touch-ups.
[page updated December 2008]